James
R.
Snyder




JAMES RUDOLPH SNYDER was born in Camden, New Jersey on January 2,, 1932 to Rex W. Snyder and his wife, the former Anna Jackson. He was the sixth of at least seven children, coming after Clarence F. and Woodley R. Snyder, Julius Snyder, Margaret Snyder and Leroy Snyder. A sister, Florence was born in 1936. The Snyders had come to Camden from Philadelphia, shortly after the birth of Woodley Snyder in 1926. The 1930 Census shows them at 919 South 9th Street. Also living with the family were Rex Snyder's mother Jane and her second husband, Louis Frazier. The family broke apart in the late 1930s, the most likely scenario is that Anna Snyder had passed away, and Clarence F. Snyder does not appear to have survived the 1930s. 

 

The 1940 Census shows that Woodley Snyder was living at the New Jersey Home for Boys in Middlesex County. Julius, Leroy and James were living with grandparents Howard and Caroline Jackson are listed in the 1940 Census for Sleepy Hole, Virginia, which is now part of the city of Suffolk, Virginia. The Census indicates that the boys were living there as early as 1935. The 1940 Census also shows Rex Snyder was boarding at 904 Douglass Street in Camden, and grandmother Jane Frazier and her husband had moved to 736 Cherry Street. The Snyder daughters were raised elsewhere, Margaret by Chasten and Mary Howard, who lived for many years in Pennsauken, New Jersey. By 1942 Rex Snyder had moved to the 700 block of Mt. Vernon Street.

Woodley, Julius, Leroy and James Snyder were all back in Camden in the 1940s. Woodley Snyder had been getting trouble with the law since the age of nine. He was sent to Jamesburg in 1942 for breaking and entering. He  escaped from the Boys Home in September of 1942 and was arrested in Camden with stolen goods after a month on the run, and was sentenced to a 10-15 year prison term for beating and elderly woman during a robbery so badly that she was paralyzed. Julius Snyder had at least four brushes with the law between 1946 and 1963 on charges that included  gambling,  embezzlement, burglary, and assault. Both brothers appear to have straightened as the years passed. Leroy and James Snyder, on the other hand, were a whole other matter.

In December of 1949 Leroy Snyder was arrested for assaulting a young woman and attempting to strangle her. with a clothesline. After a too-short time in prison, he returned to Camden, and was  sent back to jail for robbing and threatening to kill two young women. He was given four years imprisonment for this crime. Released from prison on June 23, 1955, he was arrested on July 26, 1955 for robbing a Philadelphia cab driver, and sentenced for assault and battery with intent to rob and was given a three to five year sentence. Released from jail in January of 1959, he was arrested in August for armed robbery and prison for ten years. Leroy Snyder was put back on the street in January of 1969 after serving nine years in prison. Within six weeks of his being put back on the street, he had murdered his first victim. Mrs. Lula Crawley was bound, gagged, and stabbed 13 times. Leroy Snyder murdered six more people over the next 8 months. His killing spree was stopped in September, shortly after the rape and murder of Mrs. Friedman. Under New Jersey law, Snyder's plea of no defense on seven counts of homicide prevented the state from imposing a death penalty for his crimes. On July 16, 1970, he was sentenced to three consecutive life terms, requiring the prisoner to serve 43 years and six months before he is eligible for parole. Referring to a court-ordered psychiatric report, the presiding judge publicly described Snyder as a "malignant psychopath" and a "threat to society," expressing the hope that he would never be released from jail. Leroy Snyder died in prison October of 2001.

James Snyder attended the Whittier School at South 8th and Chestnut Streets before going into the United states Army, most likely as a draftee, and served in Korea. He was stationed at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and had been promoted to Corporal by May of 1952. He was arrested in Camden on May 10, 1952 for possession of a stolen car and was fined $200 and turned over to the Army at Fort Dix. His life appears to have gone completely off the rails after this. He was sent to prison at the Lorton Reformatory on larceny charges for crimes committed in Washington. Within two weeks of his release, he had robbed and assaulted a nurse, and killed a busboy with a hammer. His trial was delayed until 1959, and he was acquitted for reasons of insanity and confined to the federal mental institution at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington. Although he had been violent on several occasions, he was allowed street privileges from 9:00 A.M to 9:00 P.M. to work in a vocational program. In 1969 while at one of these programs, he attacked a hospital employee, leaving his victim less one eye. The hospitals' response was to cut his time allowed off-premises to 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

James Snyder escaped from St. Elizabeth's in July of 1972 and made his way back to Camden. He connected with Mrs. Muskogee Edwards, who had taught him when he had been a student at the John G. Whittier School at South 8th Street and Chestnut Street. Mrs. Edwards hired him as a handyman to do repairs at her home on Kaighn Avenue. This was a fatal mistake, as James Snyder murdered her. He had already been caught and returned to St. Elizabeth's when her body was discovered. James Snyder was not tried until 1975. He was convicted of first degree murder, but apparently never served time in New Jersey prisons, having been returned to federal custody. Criminally insane, James Snyder lived out his years at St. Elizabeth's, passing away on July 16, 2013.

Shortly before his death, James Snyder participated in the filming of a documentary, Voices From Within, which featured four long-term inmates of St. Elizabeth's forensic unit, where those adjudged criminally insane are confined. The film gave a very sanitized view of those confined for the safety of themselves, and spoke little of the crimes and the victims. The paragraphs below, from the Amazon.com review of the film, are quite insightful.

This movie is positive propaganda for mental health, which is why it was made, but it would have been far more truthful and effective if they clarified exactly why these seemingly gentle damaged old men were still in St. Elizabeth. A reveal of the patient's histories at the end of the film would have been shocking and truly demonstrated exactly how dangerous, manipulative patients can appear docile and sympathetic.

These men probably should have just in been in prison, not a mental hospital. Their past crimes and ability to present a sympathetic facade leads me to believe the are psychopaths. Lewis Ecker, who gets the most film time, is a diagnosed sexual sadist, rapist and murderer. He raped and murdered a young senator-aide in the 1960's. Bite marks were all over her dead body. Lewis fought for years to be freed but his own family opposed out of fear for their own safety. He was actually allowed out into the community in the 1990's got elected to some community position, but they discovered twenty extremely graphic, sadistic sexual stories he had written in his office - one involving the prosecutor who was trying to keep him confined - along with photographs of him in sadistic sexual acts with other patients. Really sick stuff, not to mention a long history of sexual abuse of other patients.

James Snyder, the kindly old black Korean War vet, was originally committed for murdering his gay lover. After being committed he stabbed a fellow patient with an ice-pick 17 times then used it to threaten a nurse and escape for two weeks. Two years later he took out an eye and piece of skull of a staff member with a ballpeen hammer. He managed to escape again in the early 1970s, while he was out he hacked to death a woman he was living with in NJ and buried her body in the basement. He was found driving her car and using her checks when they recaptured him and sent him back to St. Elizabeth's.

Both men petitioned regularly for release in the courts via attorneys and appeals and were repeatedly denied. They both tried to get into the mental hospital as a way to avoid prison. Both were given measures of freedom in the community at times during their commitment and did things that required their freedom be severely restricted. Given how sympathetic and sane both men come across in the film I think it would have been extremely enlightening to actually detail their histories the reasons for their lifelong confinement, rather than gloss over it. It would have given real insight into how sick and dangerous an individual can be while at the same time convincing others they are just harmless, regretful old men.

I encourage everyone who watched the film to google or look up old newspaper stories about these two men. I'm sure you will agree that lifelong commitment was more than necessary, or that life sentences in a real prison would have been more fitting for them. I have real sympathy for people suffering from mental illnesses like schizophrenia who may commit horrible crimes in the throes of delusions and hallucinations, but these two men weren't in that category. These men were manipulative psychopaths who were manipulative enough to ensure they could stay in a mental hospital instead of a prison where they probably belonged. One thing is for sure, keeping them locked away from the rest of society was the right decision.

Camden Courier-Post
May 12, 1952

James R. Snyder
Kaighn Avenue
Louis Miller
Haddon Avenue
William Yeager
Harold Vecander

Camden Courier-Post * September 6, 1972

Camden Courier-Post * October 4, 1972

...continued...
Muskogee Edwards
John G. Whittier School
James R. Snyder
Baird Avenue

Philadelphia Inquirer - October 8, 1972
...continued...
Muskogee Edwards
John G. Whittier School
Joyce Boston
Rasheal McNeal
Donald McGlensey
Caroline Pugsley
James R. Snyder
Baird Avenue
...continued...
 

Camden Courier-Post * May 14, 1973

 

Camden Courier-Post * April 22, 1975

...continued...
...continued...
 

United States of America v. James R. Snyder, Appellant (three Cases),
 529 F.2d 871 (D.C. Cir. 1976)
US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - 529 F.2d 871 (D.C. Cir. 1976)
Argued Jan. 13, 1975. Decided Jan. 7, 1976


Thomas A. Guidoboni, Washington, D.C., with whom Herbert M. Silverberg,Washington, D.C. (both appointed by this Court) were on the brief for appellant.

David R. Addis, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Earl J. Silbert, U.S. Atty., John A. Terry, and Roger M. Adelman, Asst. U.S. Attys., were on the brief for appellee. Thomas A. Flannery, U.S. Atty. at the time the record was filed in No. 24,575 and Harold H. Titus, Jr., U.S. Atty., at the time the record was filed in No. 73--1970 entered appearances for appellee.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and TAMM and ROBB, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge ROBB.

ROBB, Circuit Judge:

Each of these consolidated appeals presents a different issue. In No. 24,575 the appellant Snyder, a patient at Saint Elizabeths Hospital for the mentally ill, was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, 22 D.C.Code 502, and mayhem, 22 D.C.Code 506. After a non-jury trial he was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than three nor more than ten years on each count, the sentences to run concurrently. The question presented is whether the District Court rightly declined to interpose an insanity defense when both Snyder and his counsel urged that it not be raised.

In No. 73--1970 Snyder challenges the refusal of the District Court to approve the recommendation of the hospital authorities that he be unconditionally released.

In No. 73--2154 Snyder was convicted of escape from Saint Elizabeths Hospital in violation of 18 U.S.C. 751(a). The government concedes that United States v. Powell, 164 U.S.App.D.C. 104, 503 F.2d 195 (1974) requires a reversal of this judgment.

A consolidated summary of the facts in all three cases will present the issues in focus.

In 1956 Snyder was indicted in the District Court for the murder of his homosexual partner. Found competent to stand trial he was tried in 1959, adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital. On August 5, 1963, while still a patient at Saint Elizabeths, he stabbed another patient repeatedly with an ice pick, inflicting serious wounds. By threats with the same weapon he then compelled a nursing assistant to open the door and allow him to escape. Informing the United States Attorney of the escape the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths wrote: 'Mr. Snyder is still in need of further hospitalization because of his mental condition, is considered dangerous and should be apprehended and returned as quickly as possible.' Snyder was apprehended some six weeks later and returned to the hospital, but no criminal action was taken against him.

On December 1, 1968 Snyder struck a hospital employee on the head with a blunt instrument, causing him to lose one eye, his olfactory sense, and a piece of his skull. According to the employee, Peter Klaga, Snyder suddenly became violent and struck him from behind. Snyder claimed that Klaga had made homosexual advances to him and that Snyder struck him in self-defense.

On April 5, 1969 the grand jury indicted Snyder for mayhem and assault with a dangerous weapon on Klaga. In response to an order of the District Court requesting a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant the hospital reported, December 1, 1969:

Mr. Snyder has been under continued observation and has been examined by qualified members of our psychiatric staff with respect to the current charge and the following determinations have been made. It is our opinion that although Mr. Snyder suffers from sexual deviation, homosexuality and other drug dependence (multiple drugs) (alcoholic features), he is mentally competent for trial by virtue of having a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him and being able to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding. It is also our opinion that he was mentally ill at the time of the crime but members of our staff are of conflicting opinions as to whether the crime was a product of his mental illness. (Emphasis added)

Neither the government nor Snyder questioned the hospital's opinion that he was competent to stand trial and on January 20, 1970 the court accordingly found that he was competent. When the case came on for trial, April 29, 1970, the court referred to 'the question of the possible insanity defense' and asked counsel for the defendant his 'position with respect to that'. Counsel responded:

. . . although we presumably would have an insanity defense available, based on Dr. Robinson's letter and the Government's position, we do not wish to interpose a defense of insanity. The reasons are two.

One, it is the defendant's position that he did not do what it is alleged that he did, and he was no wish to plead guilty to a crime which he did not commit.

The second factor is that, in terms of what happens to him at St. Elizabeth's where he is to be kept at John Howard or a lesser restrictive service, there isn't much difference between a successful insanity defense and a conviction.

I think whatever happens in this case, the chances are that he is going to remain at St. Elizabeth's. And he wishes to fight this case on the merits. He thinks he has a defense.

The prosecutor stated that although the government would not oppose an insanity defense if it were offered the government would not introduce evidence of Snyder's mental illness or raise the insanity issue. The court then turned to Snyder and the following colloquy took place:

THE COURT: Mr. Levitt (Snyder's counsel) has indicated that while there is a possibility of raising a defense by reason of insanity, he has consulted with you and you do not want to raise such a defense.

Is that correct?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir. And the reason for this is the setup out at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. See, if I raise an insanity defense,--well, in the first place, I did not wish to raise an insanity defense because I didn't feel I was guilty of the crimes which were charged in the indictment.

The second was the staff, in order to substantiate a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict, was going to say that it believed that I was under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident. I know that I was not under the influence of any drugs, and the people with whom I had worked every day in behavior studies know this.

They have hundreds of pages of testimony to this. And if I raise the insanity defense, then I would be saying I am guilty, but I wasn't responsible because I was not mentally stable at the time, and this is not so.

THE COURT: Your position is that you are just not guilty, period?

THE DEFENDANT: Right.

THE COURT: Let me ask you this: Are you saying that there are indications by members of the staff in which there are conflicting opinions?

THE DEFENDANT: There were three different opinions.

THE COURT: Three different opinions. And those that held that you might have been mentally ill at the time of the offense predicated their theory on the fact that you might have been taking drugs?

THE DEFENDANT: Right. Right, sir. And they said if I wanted them to help me, I would have to plead not guilty by reason of insanity and take my chances as to when I would get out. And, knowing them the way I do, that would be a pretty harsh reality to face.

THE COURT: Well, putting myself in your position, Mr. Snyder, I think it makes a lot of sense. I'm not going sua sponte to raise the issue of insanity, and I'm going to permit the defendant to conduct his defense through counsel in the way that counsel and the defendant themselves dictate.

MR. LEVITT: Thank you, Your Honor.

THE DEFENDANT: Thank you, sir.

Snyder elected to be tried by the court without a jury. Klaga testified that Snyder, who had been assigned to work with him as a helper on his truck, had assaulted him without provocation, beating him with a carpenter's hammer or pipe, and inflicting severe injuries to his head. Testifying in his own behalf Snyder claimed that Klaga made homosexual advances to him, struck him when he rebuffed the advances, and that in the ensuing fight 'I happened to put my hand on something heavy and I struck him with it.' The court found Snyder guilty, reasoning that even if Snyder's version of the incident were true Snyder used excessive force in repelling Klaga's advances.

The court imposed a sentence of three to ten years' imprisonment on each count, the sentences to run concurrently; however Snyder was remanded to Saint Elizabeths Hospital.

By letter of April 5, 1972 the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital requested the District Court to order Snyder's unconditional release pursuant to Title 24, 301(e), D.C.Code as amended. The Superintendent wrote:

Mr. Snyder has recently been reevaluated with respect to his current mental condition and as a result of our examinations and observations, it is felt that he has received maximum Hospital benefit. It is our further opinion that he has now recovered his sanity and will not be dangerous to himself or others within the reasonable future by reason of mental disorder. It is therefore respectfully requested that an order for unconditional release be issued pursuant to the provisions of Title 24, Section 301(e), District of Columbia Code, as amended.

On July 15, 1972, before the court acted on the Superintendent's request for his release, Snyder again escaped from Saint Elizabeths Hospital. He was arrested in Camden, New Jersey, on September 15, 1972 and returned to the hospital.

By letter dated December 5, 1972 the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital for the second time requested the District Court to order Snyder's unconditional release. Said the Superintendent:

We notified the Court on April 5, 1972 that it was felt that Mr. Snyder had received maximum Hospital benefit. It was our further opinion that he had recovered his sanity and would not be dangerous to himself or others within the reasonable future by reason of mental disorder. . . . Mr. Snyder was recently reevaluated and we find no substantial change in his mental condition at the present time.

The matter came on for hearing before the district judge on March 16, 1973 and upon the basis of the hospital file and testimony at the hearing the court declined to order the requested release. Later in this opinion we shall advert to the evidence presented at the hearing.

On December 8, 1972 Snyder was indicted under 18 U.S.C. 751(a) for his escape of July 15, 1972. A jury trial on September 17, 1973 resulted in a verdict of guilty, the court having again declined to interpose the defense of insanity sua sponte. Snyder was sentenced to be imprisoned for five years, this sentence to run consecutively to any sentence then being served; and the court directed that Snyder be committed to the medical center at Springfield, Missouri.

No. 24,575--The Assault and Mayhem Case

Snyder was found competent to stand trial in the assault and mayhem case and this finding has never been challenged. In this context he refused to rely upon an insanity defense, a decision in which his counsel concurred. In a statement to the court he explained the reasons for his refusal. First, said Snyder, he believed he was not guilty of the offenses charged because he had acted in self-defense. Second, he said the expert opinion that he was mentally ill at the time of the offenses was predicated on the belief that he was under the influence of drugs at that time, which he denied; and 'if I raise the insanity defense, then I would be saying I am guilty but I wasn't responsible because I was not mentally stable at the time, and this is not so.' As the court summed up his position with his concurrence, he claimed he was 'just not guilty, period'. Finally, Snyder believed that reliance on an insanity plea would damage his chance for an early release from Saint Elizabeths, since the hospital staff had told him that 'if I wanted them to help me, I would have to plead not guilty by reason of insanity and take my chances as to when I would get out.'

Agreeing that Snyder's position made 'a lot of sense'--as it plainly did--the District Court declined sua sponte to raise the issue of insanity. The court ruled in the light of Whalem v. United States, 120 U.S.App.D.C. 331, 346 F.2d 812, cert. denied, 382 U.S. 862, 86 S. Ct. 124, 15 L. Ed. 2d 100, rehear. denied, 382 U.S. 912, 86 S. Ct. 245, 15 L. Ed. 2d 164 (1965). In that case this court, sitting en banc, said

. . . if a man is insane in the eyes of the law, he is blameless in the eyes of society and is not subject to punishment in the criminal courts.

In the courtroom confrontations between the individual and society the trial judge must uphold this structural foundation by refusing to allow the conviction of an obviously mentally irresponsible defendant, and when there is sufficient question as to a defendant's mental responsibility at the time of the crime, that issue must become part of the case. . . . We believe then that, in the pursuit of justice, a trial judge must have the discretion to impose an unwanted defense on a defendant and the consequent additional burden of proof on the Government prosecutor. So, our query is whether in this case there was a combination of factors which required the trial judge to inject the insanity issue for, if such factors existed, his failure to do is an abuse of discretion and constitutes error. (Footnotes omitted)

120 U.S.App.D.C. at 337--38, 346 F.2d at 818--19.

The medical reports available to the trial judge in the Whalem case indicated that the defendant either was not insane or had not committed the offense charged because of any mental illness. Both Whalem and his counsel agreed that the insanity defense should not be raised, even though the trial judge advised counsel that if there was such a defense it should have been raised. On those facts this court held that the trial judge did not err in failing to interpose the defense sua sponte.

Since Snyder's trial took place in 1970 the district judge there ruled without the benefit of United States v. Robertson, 165 U.S.App.D.C. 325, 507 F.2d 1148 (1974), interpreting Whalem v. United States. In the Robertson case there was conflicting expert opinion on the issue of insanity. The District Court declined to interpose an insanity defense sua sponte. This court held that before reaching that decision the District Court should have heard 'evidence supporting as well as opposing the imposition of an insanity defense.' 507 F.2d at 1158. The court said:

The common sense conclusion reached by the trial judge in this case makes especially compelling the need for the full consideration of the testimony of opposing experts. The trial court's decision not to impose the insanity defense rested, in large part, on Robertson's rejection of the defense as a 'cop out.' Plainly, since it is a defendant's rejection which triggers a Whalem inquiry, that rejection should not have been controlling. Robertson's rejection and his reasons for it should have been weighed with evidence derived from a full presentation of testimony relevant to the issue of criminal responsibility.

. . . we think a viable construction of the rule in Whalem requires that when a 'sufficient question' is potentially posed by differing views of experts, the trial judge must conduct on the record a thorough exploration of the same and in addition set forth in reasonable detail the reasons for his own ultimate determination. In reaching that determination he is of course not bound to adopt in whole or in part the views of any expert. But no appellate court in our position can sensibly decide whether the trial judge has explored and exercised his discretion as required by Whalem unless the trial judge completes the exploration on the record and thereafter records in sufficient detail the reasons for his own expression of opinion.

The record is therefore remanded for supplementation in accordance with this opinion.

Id. 1160--61.

As we have seen, the hospital staff agreed that Snyder was mentally ill at the time of the offenses charged, but there were conflicting opinions as to whether the offenses were a product of the mental illness. In this situation we think United States v. Robertson is controlling and requires us to remand the case to the district judge for a hearing on the issue of criminal responsibility.1 

No. 73--1970--The Unconditional Release Proceeding

Snyder challenges the refusal of the District Court to order his unconditional release. He contends the court erred by admitting hearsay evidence at the release hearing and that the government failed to meet its burden of proof under 24 D.C.Code 301(e).

Pursuant to 24 D.C.Code 301(e) the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital under date of December 5, 1972 filed with the District Court his certificate that Snyder had recovered his sanity and that in the opinion of the superintendent he would not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others, and he was entitled to his unconditional release. The statute provides that if unchallenged such a certificate from the superintendent is sufficient to authorize the court to order the unconditional release of the patient. The statute further provides:

. . . but the court in its discretion may, or upon objection of the United States or the District of Columbia shall, after due notice, hold a hearing at which evidence as to the mental condition of the person so confined may be submitted, including the testimony of one or more psychiatrists from said hospital. The court shall weigh the evidence and, if the court finds that such person has recovered his sanity and will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others, the court shall order such person unconditionally released from further confinement in said hospital. If the court does not so find, the court shall order such person returned to said hospital. . . .

At the hearing on March 16, 1973 the court heard testimony from Dr. Stephen Klinger, a member of the staff of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Dr. Gertrude V. Cooper, a psychologist at the hospital, and Detective Richard D'Auria of the Camden, New Jersey Police Department. The court also had before it the medical records of Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Snyder's case.

Snyder argues that the testimony of Detective D'Auria was hearsay and should not have been admitted. The detective testified that on September 20, 1972 the Camden, New Jersey police, investigating the disappearance of Mrs. Muskogee Edwards, went to the basement of her house in Camden. In a trash can they 'found three fingers, the remains of three fingers, a large amount of human hair, approximately 15 pounds of musk, which was lime, cement and decomposed body tissue.' Also in the trash can were two sheets, two pillow cases, and a quilt, all saturated with blood. One of the fingers was identified by a print as a finger of Muskogee Edwards. Also in the basement were a hack saw, a meat cleaver, a knife and an ax, all stained with blood. Human hair on the ax and on a hack saw blade found in the trash can matched hair found on a brush and in a bureau drawer belonging to Mrs. Edwards. Further investigation disclosed that Snyder moved in with Mrs. Edwards shortly after his escape from Saint Elizabeths and lived with her until she disappeared on August 16, 1972. The investigation, including handwriting analysis, developed also that after her disappearance Snyder sold Mrs. Edwards' car, forging her name to the title certificate, forged her name to a check, and signed her name to a letter authorizing one of her employees to pay to Snyder her share of certain rent money. Finally, handwriting analysis established that Snyder forged Mrs. Edwards' signature to a letter dated September 15, 1972 and addressed to Dr. Klinger and another doctor on the Saint Elizabeth's staff. The writer purported to 'tell the hospital officials of his (Snyder's) activities while here in Camden, New Jersey, for the past two months', spoke in complimentary terms of Snyder's ability and conduct and concluded that '(if) given a chance for a legal release, I would like to work further with him.' The letter was postmarked in Washington, D.C. on September 20, 1972--the same day the police discovered the remains of Mrs. Edwards in Camden.

The proceedings before the District Court were 'not strictly adversary proceedings'. Lake v. Cameron, 124 U.S.App.D.C. 264, 268, 364 F.2d 657, 661 (1966). The hearing was before the judge without a jury, a circumstance that normally relaxes the strict rules of proof and allows the judge to evaluate evidence without straining it through a fine technical sieve. Furthermore, the fact of the investigation in Camden was reflected in the hospital records. Thus the file shows that on September 20, 1972 Dr. Saiger, Medical Officer in charge of Snyder's ward, noted:

Today, a call was received from Sergeant William Smith of the Camden City Police Department, Camden, New Jersey, Phone 609--365--3614, informing us that Mr. Snyder is under suspicion for homicide and narcotics offenses. I assured Sergeant Smith that Mr. Snyder is presently detained in a maximum security setting, and that the progress of their investigation would enter into any decisions regarding change of security. (Emphasis added)

On October 19, 1972 the Camden police followed up Sergeant Smith's call by filing a detainer against Snyder on a charge of auto theft. In his testimony Dr. Klinger indicated that he was generally familiar with the facts developed by the investigation in Camden and he said he had received the letter of September 20, 1972, purporting to have been written by Muskogee Edwards. He testified however that even if the allegations of the Camden police were true, and Snyder had murdered Mrs. Edwards and dismembered her body as the investigation indicated that would not change his opinion that Snyder was not suffering from a mental disorder. Considering all these circumstances--the character of the hearing, the contents of the hospital records, and Dr. Klinger's testimony on the subject--we think the testimony of Detective D'Auria merely fleshed out evidence that was otherwise before the court. In fulfilling his responsibility to guard against the discharge of a mentally ill patient who might be dangerous to others the judge would have been remiss had he closed his eyes to the detective's report of the investigation.

Having weighed the evidence as he was required to do by 24 D.C. Code 301(e) the district judge found that Snyder still suffered from mental illness and would in the reasonable future be dangerous to others if released. Accordingly the judge denied release. In support of his ruling he reviewed the hospital diagnosis2 of Snyder's illness and the history of his actions while a patient at Saint Elizabeth's, including his two assaults on other patients. The judge also noted the evidence of Snyder's involvement in the Camden murder. He then found:

Although Snyder's mental condition has shown marked improvement in many regards during the period of his hospitalization, he still exhibits 'a great deal of anxiety' (Tr. 88) which he cannot entirely control (Tr. 90); with the propensity to express these anxieties in a harmful way, still present. (Tr. 90) At present there are indications that Snyder may suffer at least to some extent from brain damage, causing 'a certain amount of rigidity,' and making it somewhat difficult 'to switch from one point of view to another.' (Tr. 94--95) Snyder 'still has difficulty in adapting quickly to new situations or in making rapid changes which may be residual to a possibly earlier organic condition.' (Tr. 16) The foregoing factors, coupled to the Hospital's view that Snyder may be 'untreatable' from its point of view (Tr. 45), justifies the Court's rejection of testimony on behalf of the Hospital supporting the recommendation for unconditional release. Manifestations of Snyder's longstanding mental illness are still present to such a degree that unconditional release into the community at large is not justified; and if released into the community at the present time, Snyder would pose a definite and distinct danger to the personal safety of others.

The principal testimony 'supporting the recommendation for unconditional release' to which the court referred came from Dr. Klinger. Although he could not and would not say that Snyder would not be dangerous to others if released, the doctor said he was convinced that Snyder had recovered his sanity; any danger therefore would not be the result of mental illness. He conceded however that on March 24, 1972 he had signed a diagnosis stating that Snyder suffered from, among other maladies, homosexual dissociative features, a condition which causes a 'panic reaction' in homosexual encounters. The report of Dr. Saiger accompanying this diagnosis stated: 'Mr. Snyder has been rediagnosed on a few occasions. Thereby representing our confusion as to how to describe the underlying personality organization that has erupted into violence and criminality. . . . It was the consensus (sic) of the Medical Staff Conference in December that psychopathology was still abundantly evident.' The report expressed the opinion that 'Mr. .snyder has learned how to eschew violence.' As an illustration of Snyder's 'new modus operandi (sic)' the report referred to occasions when, responding to 'frustrating disappointments' Snyder 'would become visibly angry; he would then either pace the halls banging his fist into his palm for some minutes (or hours) followed by angry verbally threatening behavior. He would then 'reassert cognitive control' and successfully reason his way toward successful accommodation to the frustration.' The report concluded: 'The characterologic difficulty described above and in his psychologicals is such that in patient care in a security facility with its inherent hierarchical dominance-oriented structure can only reinforce those traits. In that sense he is 'untreatable.' The posture that his therapeutic program has taken instead, i.e., diffusing the violence and working toward other sublimation of the characterological substructure seems far more useful. The alternative would be lifetime 'treatment' without likely change.'

The report of March 24, 1972 was the basis for the Superintendent's April 5, 1972 recommendation that Snyder be unconditionally released. The report, signed by Dr. Klinger, contained the following diagnosis: Sexual Deviation, Homosexuality (Dissociative Features), Drug Dependence, Heroin, Other Diseases of Brain (Cerebral Dysrhythmia). The Superintendent's release recommendation of December 5, 1972 recited that Snyder had been recently reevaluated and the hospital had found 'no substantial change in his mental condition' since April 5, 1972.

The report of the witness Dr. Cooper, Supervisor Clinical Psychologist, dated February 19, 1973 contained the following 'personality assessment' of Snyder:

The patient has continued to improve in his attempts to deal with emotional content. Particularly striking is his marked progress in noting his emotional reactions to inner stress as well as real life problems. He has begun to come to grips with his anxiety and to attempt to deal with it. In this regard he is not always successful, and may decompensate under severe stress, but frequently binds his hostile impulses by means of compulsive behaviors. He is more likely to verbalize rather than act out. When unable to do this he becomes severely depressed but is able to 'bounce back' readily. (Emphasis supplied)

Considering the evidence as a whole--and in particular the ambivalence and uncertainty concerning Snyder's condition reflected by the hospital records--we think it supports the findings and conclusions of the District Court. Certainly we cannot say the District Court abused its discretion in denying release. Having weighed the evidence the court properly concluded that the equivocal testimony and hospital reports were too shaky a foundation to support the Superintendent's recommendation.

In No. 24,575 the record is remanded for supplementation in accordance with this opinion. The judgment in No. 73--1970 is affirmed.3 The judgment in No. 73--2154 is reversed.

So ordered.

1 Although Circuit Judges Tamm and Robb feel bound by United States v. Robertson they reserve the right to reexamine the holding and rationale of that decision in the event of any en banc hearing involving the same issue of the right of a mentally competent defendant to direct his defense

2 The original diagnosis when Snyder was admitted to the hospital in 1959 was that he was suffering from 'schizophrenia, chronic undifferentiated type'. In 1967 this diagnosis was changed to 'Sexual Deviation, Homosexuality, Dissociative Features, Drug Addiction, Cerebral Dysrhythmia.' Dr. Klinger testified that the diagnosis of cerebral dysrhythmia was later dropped but he was unsure as to when this took place. Apparently the hospital records reflected this diagnosis until just before the hearing in the release proceedings. The doctor testified that a person suffering from cerebral dysrhythmia lacks the ability to control his behavior

3 Our judgment is of course without prejudice to future recommendations or requests for release

United States of America v. James R. Snyder, Appellant (three Cases),
689 F.2d 1067 (D.C. Cir. 1982)
US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit - 689 F.2d 1067 (D.C. Cir. 1982)
Argued May 4, 1982. Decided Aug. 20, 1982. As Amended De. 10, 1982

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Criminal No. 1079-56).


Arthur B. Leavens, with whom William J. Mertens, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant.

William J. Birney, Asst. U. S. Atty., with whom Stanley S. Harris, U. S. Atty., John A. Terry, John R. Fisher and Roger M. Adelman, Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Charles F. C. Ruff, Washington, D. C., also entered an appearance for appellee.

Before MacKINNON, Circuit Judge, ROBB, Senior Circuit Judge, and HAROLD H. GREENE,* United States District Judge for the District of Columbia.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge MacKINNON.

MacKINNON, Circuit Judge.

Following a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity to a 1956 charge of first-degree murder, Snyder has been confined at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Through the years there have been several attempts to obtain his release and we here affirm a refusal by the district court to unconditionally release him pursuant to requests by the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's Hospital under D.C.Code 24-301(e) (1981) and by appellant (Snyder) under D.C.Code 24-301(k) (1981). The facts of this case are almost unbelievable.I.

On October 15, 1956, James R. Snyder was charged with first-degree murder for killing his homosexual paramour. A separate three-count indictment charged Snyder with robbery, assault with a dangerous weapon and unauthorized use of a vehicle.1 After various delays,2 Snyder was tried before a jury on the three-count indictment. The jury rejected his insanity defense and found him guilty.3 On appeal this court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to enter a judgment of not guilty by reason of insanity. The district court entered judgment as directed and committed Snyder to St. Elizabeth's Hospital.4 

On February 24, 1959, Snyder's first-degree murder trial commenced. Several days later on February 27, 1959, the district court granted Snyder's motion for a directed verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity and committed him to St. Elizabeth's Hospital under D.C.Code 24-301(d).5 (File II at 36-37.)

While housed at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, Snyder on August 5, 1963 in a "rage reaction" stabbed another patient seventeen times with an ice pick and then compelled a nursing assistant under threats with the same weapon to open the door so that he could escape. (File II at 48.) Six weeks later Snyder was apprehended but no criminal charges were filed.

C. Mayhem and Assault with a Dangerous Weapon in 1968

Five years later on December 1, 1968, Snyder while on the hospital grounds assaulted a hospital employee with a ball-peen hammer, causing the employee to lose an eye, his olfactory sense and a piece of his skull. Id. Snyder was subsequently indicted for mayhem and assault with a dangerous weapon and at his own election was tried without a jury. Neither Snyder nor his counsel wanted to raise the insanity defense. Snyder was convicted and sentenced to concurrent sentences of three to ten years on each count.

On January 7, 1976, this court in United States v. Snyder, 529 F.2d 871 (D.C. Cir. 1976), held that the district court before declining to raise the issue of insanity sua sponte, after Snyder refused to rely on the insanity defense, should have held evidentiary hearings on the issue of criminal responsibility. Snyder's conviction for escape, described infra, was also reversed.

On April 5, 1972 the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's requested the district court to order Snyder's unconditional release, representing: Mr. Snyder has recently been reevaluated with respect to his current mental condition and as a result of our examinations and observations, it is felt that he has received maximum Hospital benefit. It is our further opinion that he has now recovered his sanity and will not be dangerous to himself or others within the reasonable future by reason of mental disorder. (File II at 44).

However, while this request was pending, Snyder on July 15, 1972 again escaped from the hospital and traveled to Camden, New Jersey where he began living with a Mrs. Muskogee Edwards. On September 15, 1972, Snyder was arrested in Camden and returned to St. Elizabeth's. Five days later, Camden police, while investigating Mrs. Edwards' disappearance, found her mutilated, decomposed remains in the basement of her home. The results of this investigation were summarized in this court's opinion in United States v. Snyder, 529 F.2d 871, 877 (D.C. Cir. 1976), which are set forth in the margin.6 She had apparently been murdered in gruesome fashion with a hack saw, meat cleaver, knife and ax. Camden police found that Snyder had been forging Mrs. Edwards' signature on her car title certificate, checks and personal correspondence. Id.

On December 5, 1972, within three months of the New Jersey murder, the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's renewed his request to the district court that Snyder be unconditionally released. Three days later Snyder was indicted under 18 U.S.C. 751(a) for escaping from the hospital. On September 17, 1973, Snyder was convicted of escape and sentenced to a consecutive five year prison term. This conviction was subsequently reversed in United States v. Snyder, supra.

On March 16, 1973 the district court held a hearing on the Superintendent's request for Snyder's unconditional release and denied the request. This court in United States v. Snyder, supra, affirmed the trial court's decision.

Following a jury trial before the Camden County Criminal Court, Snyder on April 21, 1975 was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Mrs. Edwards. Snyder was sentenced to a consecutive life term of imprisonment and was returned to St. Elizabeth's where the State of New Jersey lodged a detainer that remains in force. (File II at 59, 64.)

A. The 1978 Request for Unconditional Release

On September 14, 1978, the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's made a second request that the district court order Snyder's unconditional release, again stating that Snyder had been diagnosed as having no mental disorder and expressing the opinion that he would neither be dangerous to himself nor others. The district court on October 24 and 30, 1978 held hearings on the Superintendent's request and denied it.7 

On November 19, 1980, the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's for a third time recommended to the district court that Snyder be unconditionally released and that he be transferred to a correctional facility in New Jersey to begin serving the balance of his life sentence. On February 27, 1981, Snyder filed a motion under D.C.Code 24-301(k) (1981) for unconditional release. The district court held a hearing on March 11, 1981 on both the hospital's and Snyder's requests for release. The district court denied both requests and on September 11, 1981 filed factual findings to support its conclusion that Snyder was still mentally ill and dangerous to himself and others.8 

The district court found as a result of the testimony presented at the hearing that Snyder "suffers from anti-social personality disorder, compulsive personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder." Findings and Order, Brief and Appendix for Appellee at 31-32. The conclusion of the St. Elizabeth's staff that Snyder was no longer mentally ill was expressly rejected by a finding that there was substantial evidence of present mental pathology. Id. at 32. The court's finding stemmed from a number of facts. For example, one of the psychologists who examined Snyder stated that he would be "dangerous because of a mental disease or defect if the present Diagnostic Manual classified psychopathic personality as a mental disease or defect." Id. (emphasis added). The court did not consider itself bound by either the definitions of the present Diagnostic Manual or the labels assigned by a psychologist. The court also questioned the soundness of the hospital staff's assessment of Snyder's present mental condition because of the continuing reports over the previous twenty years that he was suffering from major mental illnesses. Id. at 35. In addition, the court found that Snyder's past involvement with and often serious reactions to homosexuality and drugs could easily be triggered again because of the "increased probability of homosexual confrontations and/or drug abuse," id. at 39, that he would encounter if he were released from St. Elizabeth's and transferred to a New Jersey state prison to begin serving his life sentence for his conviction of the murder of Mrs. Edwards.

Finally, the court questioned whether the requirements of D.C.Code 24-301(e) for unconditional release had been met since at least one of the psychologists was opposed to Snyder's unconditional release into the community; she would have recommended Snyder's release from St. Elizabeth's only on the condition that he be incarcerated in a prison. Id. at 38. This implicitly indicates that Snyder is still considered dangerous to himself and others. It should be noted that the statute only authorizes release if all three requirements are satisfied, i.e., (1) that he has recovered his insanity, (2) he will not be dangerous to himself or others, (3) and the Superintendent files a written opinion. While the problem of evaluating future conduct is admittedly difficult, St. Elizabeth's record on Snyder does not commend their judgment. It is hard to see how any reasonable person could conclude that Snyder is not dangerous to others.9 III.

The present appeal is from a district court order denying both the request by the Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's Hospital that Snyder be unconditionally released from the hospital pursuant to D.C.Code 24-301(e) (1981)10 and the request by Snyder himself that he be released pursuant to D.C.Code 24-301(k) (1981).11 The district court denied both requests on the ground that Snyder, who was committed to St. Elizabeth's after having been found not guilty by reason of insanity of first degree murder, remained mentally ill and dangerous to himself and others. Appellant argues here that "(h)e has had no hearing at which his then-current insanity was affirmatively demonstrated, under any standard of proof." Brief for Appellant at 14. He contends that under the principles we set forth in Bolton v. Harris, 395 F.2d 642 (D.C. Cir. 1968), and other cases, as well as under the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution, the government must affirmatively establish that he is mentally ill and thereby dangerous.

We conclude that it is unnecessary to reach the constitutional questions that appellant advances because we find that he was civilly committed on July 20, 1960 in accordance with the full statutory safeguards to which he was then entitled. We hold that Snyder has already been accorded the relief he now seeks and also hold that there is ample evidence of record to support the district court's order denying the requests for release on the ground that Snyder is still mentally ill and poses a serious danger to himself and others.

The soundness of Snyder's position on appeal rests entirely on the validity of one of his fundamental premises. Succinctly stated, Snyder's argument is that his continued confinement, without a hearing at which the government must bear the burden of proving that he is still mentally ill and dangerous, violates his right to equal protection and due process because he was automatically committed to the hospital following an acquittal by reason of insanity based only upon a reasonable doubt that he was sane at the time of the murder. Snyder claims that he has been committed for more than five years beyond the time when he presumably would have been paroled and therefore believes that "further commitment requires the same procedural protections afforded potential civil committees, including a jury trial at which the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he is presently mentally ill and thereby dangerous." Brief for Appellant at 17. The crucial premise in Snyder's argument is the assertion that he has never had a hearing at which the government bore the burden of proving that he was mentally ill and dangerous.

At oral argument a major point of discussion was whether hearings held in 1960 by the Mental Health Commission and subsequently by the district court established Snyder's insanity and dangerousness through the use of adequate procedural safeguards. On this point we have been successful in locating the record in Mental Health No. 1051-60. This reflects the civil commitment proceedings commenced against Snyder on June 8, 1960 and shows that in those proceedings he was afforded the full range of safeguards to which he was then entitled under the law. Because we have carefully reviewed all those proceedings, we describe them to save time for future courts.

The civil commitment proceedings initiated against Snyder were part of an effort to secure the appointment of a committee empowered to distribute part of Snyder's newly discovered assets to pay for attorneys' fees in connection with his defense of the 1956 first-degree murder charge.12 Snyder had filed a petition as an indigent in that case to have counsel appointed by the trial court. Two attorneys, Charles J. Pilzer and Harvey A. Jacobs, were appointed and represented Snyder at the trial at which he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The events that led to the initiation of civil commitment proceedings were outlined by Pilzer in his July 12, 1962 "Motion for the Allowance of an Attorneys' Fee":

After the case was completed, it came to their attention (i.e. Snyder's counsel) that Mr. Snyder, in reality, was not indigent, but that he had a substantial amount of money to his credit at the Veterans Administration. They then petitioned Judge Keech, who had tried the case, to allow them a fee. The Judge expressed his willingness so to do, but suggested that they first have a Committee appointed. They attempted to have a Committee appointed, pursuant to the Judge's suggestion, and were informed that a civil commitment would be required. They then filed a petition for the civil commitment and a Guardian Ad Litem was appointed who recommended the commitment and the same was granted. Subsequent thereto, upon the petition to have a Committee appointed, an answer was filed by another Guardian Ad Litem, Charles W. Halleck, Esq., in which Mr. Halleck suggested that there was no need for a Committee in view of the Veterans Administration's position in the case. He also stated in his report that "if the petitioner or any persons have rendered legal services to Snyder and are entitled to just and reasonable payment therefor, the Veterans Administration has advised this Guardian Ad Litem that such bills can be paid directly by the Veterans Administration."

(File II at 41.)

On June 8, 1960, Pilzer, as Snyder's "nearest friend,"13 filed a Petition for Writ de Lunatico Inquirendo, and for Appointment of Committee,14 in which he stated that Snyder was entitled to $4,906.07 from the Veterans Administration because of a service connected disability incurred while in the military. Pilzer requested the court to: (1) issue a writ directing that Snyder's alleged insanity and unsoundness of mind be evaluated and determined, (2) refer the matter to the Mental Health Commission for a report and recommendations, and (3) appoint a committee of Snyder's person and estate.

On June 15, 1960, the district court ordered the writ issued and referred the petition to the Mental Health Commission (the Commission).15 On June 21, 1960, the Secretary of the Commission had notice officially served on Snyder to inform him that a petition had been filed in the district court alleging that he was of unsound mind and seeking his commitment. Snyder was also notified that the Commission would conduct a hearing on the allegations of the petition. The notice informed Snyder that he could appear personally or by attorney to oppose the allegations of the petition. On June 22, 1960, the district court appointed a guardian ad litem to represent Snyder in the mental health proceedings.

On July 12, 1960, the Commission held its hearing. The following day the Commission filed its report and recommendations in which it found that Snyder was of unsound mind, suffering from schizophrenic reaction, chronic undifferentiated type, and was incapable of managing his own affairs. His mental condition was found to warrant commitment to a hospital for treatment. It was further found that he was not a resident of the District of Columbia and that he was entitled through the Veterans Administration to a disability pension of $4,906.07. Those present at the hearing included Dr. Stephen Klinger, of the Staff of St. Elizabeth's Hospital in charge of the maximum security building, who testified that Snyder was in need of continued hospitalization for his own safety and for the welfare of others. Also in attendance were Snyder's guardian ad litem, who interviewed Snyder and concurred in the Commission's recommendations; an attorney for the petitioner, Pilzer; and a Department of Public Health employee who gave biographical information about Snyder and testified about communications sent to Snyder's family members. The three-member panel of the Commission consisted of two physicians and an attorney.16 

The unanimous Commission panel17 recommended that Snyder be adjudged and decreed to be of unsound mind, that he be committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, that his maintenance and treatment be paid for according to statute, and that a committee be appointed to administer his affairs. The Commission's report and recommendations, which were officially served on Snyder, pursuant to statute,18 indicated that he had five days in which to demand a trial by jury or a hearing by the court to determine the issue of his insanity.

On July 20, 1960, the district court held a final hearing19 at which it entered a "Decree of Adjudication and Commitment" stating:

(1) That James R. Snyder is of unsound mind and is hereby committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital until such time as he may be safely discharged therefrom, returned to the state of his residence or transferred to a veterans facility.

(2) That James R. Snyder is not a resident of the District of Columbia.

(3) That the expense of the maintenance and treatment of James R. Snyder in Saint Elizabeths Hospital shall be borne in accordance with the provisions of Public Law 724-80th Congress (District of Columbia Appropriations Act, 1949, approved June 19, 1948.)20 

The district court civilly committed Snyder according to the prescribed statutory procedures.21 

On August 8, 1960, Pilzer's attorney had served on Snyder a "Notice of Hearing on Petition for Appointment of Committee" for his person and estate. On the same day the district court appointed a new guardian ad litem for Snyder. On July 19, 1961, Pilzer filed a "Motion for Immediate Appointment of Committee," in which he petitioned the court to appoint him as Committee of Snyder. Pilzer stated that the former guardian ad litem had approved of Pilzer's appointment as Committee of Snyder, but that the new guardian ad litem had not yet filed a report commenting on Pilzer's appointment despite Pilzer's request for a report.

Apparently, the new guardian ad litem took no action until February 28, 1962 when he submitted a report in which he recommended that no committee be appointed since the Veterans Administration would directly pay Pilzer and any others for the reasonable costs they encountered in defending Snyder. Accordingly, on March 26, 1962, the district court ordered that no committee be appointed.

The guardian ad litem's February 28, 1962 report also pointed out that Snyder was in St. Elizabeth's Hospital pursuant to two commitments, one criminal and one civil. It stated that Snyder had been "adjudicated in a civil commitment proceeding as being of unsound mind, a fact which overcomes the ambiguous status resulting from a criminal commitment." It is not clear what was meant by that statement. Presumably, the intended meaning was that Snyder's insanity had been affirmatively established at the civil commitment proceedings whereas Snyder's insanity had not been directly established at the criminal proceeding when Snyder was found not guilty by reason of insanity. This part of the report apparently persuaded the district court on July 30, 1962 to issue an order modifying the July 20, 1960 Decree of Adjudication and Commitment. The court vacated and set aside as surplusage and unnecessary, in view of Snyder's February 27, 1959 criminal commitment, paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 of the July 20, 1960 decree. In their stead, the court substituted the following: "ADJUDGED and DECREED: 1. That James R. Snyder is of unsound mind." This reaffirms the civil adjudication of unsound mind.

Based upon these facts there can be little dispute that Snyder's claim for relief must fail. Separate proceedings were held to determine Snyder's sanity. They were civil commitment proceedings and they complied with all the statutory safeguards to which he was then entitled (e.g., notice of all proceedings, representation by appointed counsel, and opportunity to appear at the proceedings and call witnesses). The Commission after having received testimony found Snyder to be of "unsound mind." The district court accepted the Commission's recommendation that Snyder be adjudged and decreed to be of "unsound mind," and civilly committed him to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. Snyder remained committed in St. Elizabeth's Hospital under that valid, albeit duplicative, civil commitment decree for over two years until the district court modified the decree. The modification did not disturb the adjudication that Snyder was of "unsound mind." Under the statutory scheme existing at the time, a decree of "unsound mind" was synonymous with a determination of insanity. In fact, the governing statute at the time prescribed the form in which the Commission should make its recommendations to the district court and specifically used the phrase "of unsound mind" to refer to insanity.22 

Although the record suggests that Snyder's civil commitment proceedings were originally commenced for the purpose of enabling the attorneys who defended Snyder in the first-degree murder case to be compensated for their services, the record also clearly shows that the civil commitment proceedings were conducted in good faith and strictly complied with the prescribed statutory procedures. Of particular importance is the fact that Snyder had due notice of the proceedings and that at all times during the civil commitment proceedings he was represented by a guardian ad litem whose sole charge was to represent Snyder's interests. Even though it might be said that the determination of Snyder's insanity at his earlier criminal trial was not established by the same standards as are applied in civil commitments, his insanity was established in the 1960 civil commitment proceedings. Thus, Snyder already has been accorded the due process and equal protection safeguards he now claims to have been denied.

Accordingly, Snyder has not stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. We affirm the district court's order denying the requests of both the hospital and Snyder for his unconditional release.

Judgment accordingly.

*
Sitting by designation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 292(a)

1 On October 15, 1956, Snyder was charged in Criminal No. 1063-56 in a three-count indictment in connection with his robbery and assault of a woman on September 5, 1966. (District Court File, Criminal No. 1063-56 (hereinafter File I))

2 The district court committed Snyder to St. Elizabeth's on November 30, 1956 for a mental examination to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. (District Court File, Criminal No. 1079-56 at 7 (hereinafter File II). The Superintendent of St. Elizabeth's certified to the court in an April 4, 1957 letter that Snyder was mentally incompetent, and the district court committed him for further treatment. (File II at 8.) On October 24, 1957, the Superintendent advised the court that Snyder's mental competency had been restored and on October 31, 1957, the court found Snyder competent to stand trial. (File II at 9.) During the impaneling of the jury for the trial on the three-count indictment, Snyder suffered an epileptic seizure and the court ordered Snyder recommitted for further examination

On May 21, 1957, the Superintendent advised the court that Snyder was again competent to stand trial and on June 3, 1958 the second trial on the three-count indictment commenced.

3 On June 27, 1958, Snyder was sentenced to consecutive terms of imprisonment totalling eight to twenty-four years

4 The government maintains that Snyder's commitment in that case remains in force today. Brief and Appendix for Appellee at 2 n.2

5 D.C.Code 24-301(d) (Supp. VIII, 1960), as it existed at the time, provided:

(d) If any person tried upon an indictment or information for an offense, or tried in the juvenile court of the District of Columbia for an offense, is acquitted solely on the ground that he was insane at the time of its commission, the court shall order such person to be confined in a hospital for the mentally ill.

6 We stated there:

In a trash can they "found three fingers, the remains of three fingers, a large amount of human hair, approximately 15 pounds of musk, which was lime, cement and decomposed body tissue." Also in the trash can were two sheets, two pillow cases, and a quilt, all saturated with blood. One of the fingers was identified by a print as a finger of Muskogee Edwards. Also in the basement were a hack saw, a meat cleaver, a knife and an ax, all stained with blood. Human hair on the ax and on a hack saw blade found in the trash can matched hair found on a brush and in a bureau drawer belonging to Mrs. Edwards. Further investigation disclosed that Snyder moved in with Mrs. Edwards shortly after his escape from Saint Elizabeths and lived with her until she disappeared on August 16, 1972. The investigation, including handwriting analysis, developed also that after her disappearance Snyder sold Mrs. Edwards' car, forging her name to the title certificate, forged her name to a check, and signed her name to a letter authorizing one of her employees to pay to Snyder her share of certain rent money. Finally, handwriting analysis established that Snyder forged Mrs. Edwards' signature to a letter dated September 15, 1972 and addressed to Dr. Klinger and another doctor on the Saint Elizabeths staff. The writer purported to "tell the hospital officials of his (Snyder's) activities while here in Camden, New Jersey, for the past two months", spoke in complimentary terms of Snyder's ability and conduct and concluded that "(if) given a chance for a legal release, I would like to work further with him." The letter was postmarked in Washington, D. C. on September 20, 1972-the same day the police discovered the remains of Mrs. Edwards in Camden.

7 Snyder himself opposed the hospital's recommendation. (Tr. in Criminal No. 1079-56, IV at 44-45.)

8 Findings and Order in Brief and Appendix for Appellee at 31-42

9 The hospital's recommendation for unconditional release did not properly reply to the express standards that the statute provided as a basis for the court to make up its judgment. The hospital's November 19, 1980 recommendation stated:

In September 1978, Saint Elizabeths Hospital recommended that Mr. Snyder be unconditionally released from Saint Elizabeths Hospital because he was diagnosed as No Mental Disorder and was, in our opinion, not a danger to himself or others within the reasonable future by reason of mental disorder. (Emphasis added.)

R. 64.

This statement does not fully comply with the statute. The statute is plain. Its principal provisions are (1) and (2). (See n.10, infra.)

First, the superintendent is to certify: "That such person has recovered his sanity." This was not squarely complied with in 1980 by the statement that, "In September 1978 Saint Elizabeths Hospital recommended [his unconditional release] ... because he was diagnosed as No Mental Disorder ..." While this did not follow the precise terminology of the statute it probably constituted a substantial compliance. However, a certificate by the superintendent in the exact words of the statute would be preferred - but the 1978 statement is untimely in 1980.

Second, the statute requires a statement: "(2) that in the opinion of the superintendent, such person will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others ..." This also calls for a clear, plain certification by the superintendent with respect to Snyder's present dangerousness in 1980 - not for a reference to a diagnosis over two years old. The statement of "our opinion" presumably includes that of the superintendent and is unobjectional. But the limitation that he would not be a danger to himself or others "by reason of mental disorder" - does not comply with the statute. The statute calls for an unqualified statement of opinion, without limitation, that he "will not within the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others ..." The question of sanity is fully covered by (1). The inquiry called for by (2) is designed to give the judge a basis for evaluating the superintendent's reply to (1). Placing the quoted limitation on the opinion set forth in response to (2) thus does not comply with the statute and does not give the judge the information to which he is entitled. Here, though, it may have served the purpose of alerting the judge to the weakness in the certification.

10 D.C.Code 24-301(e) (1981) provides: 

(e) Where any person has been confined in a hospital for the mentally ill pursuant to subsection (d) of this section, and the superintendent of such hospital certifies: (1) That such person has recovered his sanity; (2) that, in the opinion of the superintendent, such person will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others; and (3) in the opinion of the superintendent, the person is entitled to his unconditional release from the hospital, and such certificate is filed with the clerk of the court in which the person was tried, and a copy thereof served on the United States Attorney or the Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia, whichever office prosecuted the accused, such certificate shall be sufficient to authorize the court to order the unconditional release of the person so confined from further hospitalization at the expiration of 15 days from the time said certificate was filed and served as above; but the court in its discretion may, or upon objection of the United States or the District of Columbia shall, after due notice, hold a hearing at which evidence as to the mental condition of the person so confined may be submitted, including the testimony of 1 or more psychiatrists from said hospital. The court shall weigh the evidence and, if the court finds that such person has recovered his sanity and will not in the reasonable future be dangerous to himself or others, the court shall order such person unconditionally released from further confinement in said hospital. If the court does not so find, the court shall order such person returned to said hospital. Where, in the judgment of the superintendent of such hospital, a person confined under subsection (d) of this section is not in such condition as to warrant his unconditional release, but is in a condition to be conditionally released under supervision, and such certificate is filed and served as above provided, such certificate shall be sufficient to authorize the court to order the release of such person under such conditions as the court shall see fit at the expiration of 15 days from the time such certificate is filed and served pursuant to this section: Provided, that the provisions as to hearing prior to unconditional release shall also apply to conditional releases, and, if, after a hearing and weighing the evidence, the court shall find that the condition of such person warrants his conditional release, the court shall order his release under such conditions as the court shall see fit, or, if the court does not so find, the court shall order such person returned to such hospital.

11 D.C.Code 24-301(k) (1981) provides:

(k) (1) A person in custody or conditionally released from custody, pursuant to the provisions of this section, claiming the right to be released from custody, the right to any change in the conditions of his release, or other relief concerning his custody, may move the court having jurisdiction to order his release, to release him from custody, to change the conditions of his release, or to grant other relief.

(2) A motion for relief may be made at any time after a hearing has been held or waived pursuant to subsection (d) (2) of this section.

(3) Unless the motion and the files and records of the case conclusively show that the person is entitled to no relief, the court shall cause notice thereof to be served upon the prosecuting authority, grant a prompt hearing thereon, determine the issues, and make findings of fact and conclusions of law with respect thereto. On all issues raised by his motion, the person shall have the burden of proof. If the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the person is entitled to his release from custody, either conditional or unconditional, a change in the conditions of his release, or other relief, the court shall enter such order as may appear appropriate.

(4) A court may entertain and determine the motion without requiring the production of the persons at the hearing.

(5) A court shall not be required to entertain a 2nd or successive motion for relief under this section more often than once every 6 months. A court for good cause shown may in its discretion entertain such a motion more often than once every 6 months.

(6) An appeal may be taken from an order entered under this section to the court having jurisdiction to review final judgments of the court entering the order.

(7) An application for habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section shall not be entertained if it appears that the applicant has failed to apply for relief, by motion, to the court having jurisdiction to entertain a motion pursuant to this section, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the validity of his detention.

12 On February 27, 1959, the district court found Snyder not guilty by reason of insanity in Criminal No. 1079-56. He was subsequently committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital where he was still confined as a mental patient when the civil commitment proceedings were initiated on June 8, 1960

13 The petition filed by Pilzer stated that Snyder had been unable to locate his wife and that he had no knowledge of her present address. Pilzer also stated that Snyder's father, who lived in New Jersey, had been fully informed of the situation but refused to give his consent to the proceedings or to intervene, preferring instead to have nothing to do with the matter. District Court File, Mental Health No. 1051-60

14 Pilzer filed the petition in accordance with the provisions of D.C.Code 21-310 (1951) which stated: 

Any person with whom an alleged insane person may reside, or at whose house he may be, or the father or mother, husband or wife, brother or sister, or the child of lawful age of any such person, or the nearest relative or friend available, or the committee of such person, ... may apply for a writ de lunatico inquirendo and an order of commitment, or either thereof, for any alleged insane person in the District of Columbia, by filing in the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia a verified petition therefor, containing a statement of the facts upon which the allegation of insanity is based.

15 D.C.Code 21-311 (1951) provided:

Any petition filed in the equity court for a writ de lunatico inquirendo or for an order of commitment of any alleged insane person, shall be referred by the court to the Commission for report and recommendation within such time as the court may designate, not exceeding seven days, which time may be extended by the court for good cause shown, and in such event the period of temporary commitment in Saint Elizabeths Hospital may be extended by the court for such additional time as the court shall deem necessary. The Commission shall examine the alleged insane person and any other person, including any suggested by the alleged insane person, his relatives, friends, or representatives, whose testimony may be relevant, competent, and material upon the issue of insanity; and the Commission shall afford opportunity for hearing to any alleged insane person, his relatives, friends, or representatives. At all hearings the alleged insane person shall have the right to be represented by counsel.

The Commission is hereby authorized to conduct its examination and hearings of cases elsewhere than at the offices of said Commission in its discretion, according to the circumstances of the case.

If in the determination of the Commission he be found not to be sane, then it shall be the duty of the Commission to apply to the court for a date for a hearing. In all cases before said hearing, the said Commission shall cause to be served personally upon the patient a written notice of the time and place of final hearing at least five days before the date fixed. Five days' notice of the time and place of the hearing shall in all cases be mailed to or served upon the applicant, but in case the applicant is not the husband, wife, or nearest relative, the notice shall be mailed to or served upon the husband, wife, or nearest relative, if possible. The notice shall contain a statement that if the patient desires to oppose the application for a final order of commitment, he may appear personally or by attorney at the time and place fixed for the hearing. Proof of service shall be made at the hearing. The court may in its discretion appoint an attorney or guardian ad litem to represent the alleged insane person at any hearing before the court, or before the court and jury, and shall allow the attorney or guardian ad litem so appointed a reasonable fee for his services. Such fees may be charged against the estate or property, if any, of the alleged insane person.

16 The governing statute provided:

There is hereby established a Commission on Mental Health (hereinafter referred to as the commission), which shall examine alleged insane persons, inquire into the affairs of such persons, and the affairs of those persons legally liable as hereinafter provided for the support of said alleged insane persons, and make reports and recommendations to the court as to the necessity of treatment, the commitment, and payment of the expense of maintenance and treatment of such insane persons.

(Commission to consist of nine members, eight physicians and an attorney). The two physician members on active service and the lawyer member shall constitute the commission for the purposes of this section....

D.C.Code 21-308 (1951).

17 D.C.Code 21-316 (1951) required that "(r)ecommendations of the commission must be made by the unanimous recommendation of the three members acting upon the case."

18 D.C.Code 21-312 (1951) provided:

Upon the receipt of the report and recommendation of the commission, a copy shall be served personally upon the alleged insane person, his guardian ad litem, or his attorney, if he has one, together with notice that he has five days within which to demand a jury trial. A demand for hearing by the court, or a demand for jury trial for the purpose of determining the sanity or insanity of the alleged insane person may be made by the said alleged insane person or by anyone in his behalf, or a jury trial may be ordered by the court upon its own motion, ....

19 The district court noted in its Decree of Adjudication and Commitment that Snyder had made no demand for either a jury trial or further hearing by the court within the five days prescribed by law. See D.C.Code 21-312 (1951), supra

20 Pub. L. No.724, 62 Stat. 549-550 (1948) provides that after June 19, 1948, "funds of the District of Columbia shall not be available for the care of any person admitted hereafter to Saint Elizabeths Hospital who has not lived in the District of Columbia for more than one year immediately prior to application for voluntary admission or the filing of the petition provided for in the Act approved June 8, 1938, as amended...."

21 D.C.Code 21-314 (1951) outlined the procedure to be followed if no jury trial was demanded:

If no demand be made for a jury trial, the judge holding court shall determine the sanity or insanity of said alleged insane person, but such judge may, in his discretion, require other proofs, in addition to the petition and report of the commission, or such judge may order the temporary commitment of said alleged insane person for observation or treatment for an additional period of not more than thirty days....

D.C.Code 21-315 (1951) governed commitment after trial:

If the judge be satisfied that the alleged insane person is insane, or if a jury shall so find, the judge may commit the insane person as he in his discretion shall find to be for the best interests of the public and of the insane person....

22 D.C.Code 21-316 (1951) prescribed the form in which the Commission should make its recommendations concerning alleged insane persons. One alternative, paragraph (C), stated:

(C) That the person is of unsound mind and (1) should be committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital, or any other hospital provided by section 21-329, (a) at public expense, or (b) at the expense of those persons who are required by law, or who will agree to pay for the maintenance and treatment of said insane person, or (c) that the relatives of said insane person, mentioned in section 21-321 are able to pay a specified sum per month toward the support and maintenance of said insane person; ...

(Emphasis added).

That the statutory scheme contemplates the interchange of the phrases "of unsound mind" with "insanity" is further suggested by the language in D.C.Code 21-311 (1951), which refers to "person(s) therein named to be insane or of unsound mind.".

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